Fred Wilson – Hypocritical, Wrong and Conflicted

Fred Wilson lit a fire today suggesting that certain bloggers need to step it up a notch to improve quality and be more like mainstream journalists.

A fair point if spoken generally, although I’d argue that the quality of reporting done by many bloggers today, at least in the tech space, is equal to or better than most mainstream journalism. I think this is particularly true when we’re talking about breaking, non-embargoed news, where contacts and inside sources matter more than having all the time in the world to think about, research, write and edit an article. His point, therefore, should have been that all news writers need to step it up a notch and aim for better quality, which is sort of like saying nothing at all.

Normally I wouldn’t take issue with the statement, except that it was partially aimed at us. Wilson specifically called out our Erick Schonfeld for his post on social gaming platforms, as well as Matt Marshall at VentureBeat for a post he wrote about Like.

Wilson’s first gripe is that Matt, in his post about Like, didn’t give enough credit to competitor ThisNext. His second – that Erick, in his post on Zynga and SGN, suggested that the “two companies are neck and neck like Hillary and Obama,” when “Zynga is almost an order of magnitude bigger.”

Wilson fully discloses his conflicts of interest in the post – that he is a friend to the founder of ThisNext and an investor in Zynga. At that point, of course, a lot of the credibility behind his opinions comes into question. The two bloggers he is attacking have no conflicts with these startups.

He fails to realize that both Matt (San Jose Mercury News) and Erick (Fortune, Business 2.0) are seasoned mainstream journalists who’ve made the crossover to blogging. So his whole argument about blogging v. mainstream media loses yet more steam.

In reading the articles, it seems to me that Matt did an excellent job of highlighting a recent surge by Like while still noting relevant competitors. Erick’s post, which I am more familiar with, is in my opinion above reproach. Erick notes the strengths and weaknesses of both platforms and suggests that developers will ultimately make a decision as to which, or both, they will join. Erick also interviewed Wilson for the post and quoted him in it.

So what this really comes down to is this. Wilson didn’t like the coverage. But instead of simply disagreeing with and rebutting the points made in the posts, he went after the reputation of the writers themselves. That would be inappropriate even if he was right. But the fact that he was both conflicted and wrong makes it inexcusable.

Wilson failed to uphold the very standards of integrity that he demands from others. He failed to contact Erick or Matt before writing, and didn’t seem to have the facts to back up his argument. In a twitter exchange between us on this issue, he defended his sloppiness on the fact that he’s a blogger, saying “if you are a blogger you can say what you think, once you become a journalist, you have a different standard.”

Now, frankly, I’m confused. Bloggers can say what they think, but journalists can’t? I think what he’s trying to say is that Erick and Matt are no longer bloggers and now need to hold themselves to a higher standard – one that Wilson explicitly doesn’t hold himself to. That sounds like hypocrisy 101 to me.

Also, in a comment to his original post, he says “Erick didn’t get it wrong…but i think he missed the opportunity to get it right.”

How can you be both wrong and right at the same time?

Wilson partially retracted his post in a follow up, saying that he was sorry for singling out Erick and Matt, and saying that he “didn’t mean to take a shot at either of them.” But he then goes on to say that the whole exercise was a good one, since it started this great conversation on the issue.

That’s no apology, Fred. An apology would include you admitting that both posts were well researched and well written pieces. And that it was wrong to attack the reputation of these writers just because the conclusions reached by them were different than your own.

One last note. In the comments Fred says it isn’t even debatable that SGN is not a real company. From what we hear on the street, some very high profile venture capitalists are willing to bet some serious money that he’s wrong.

Update: Mathew Ingram says I went a little too hard at Fred here. I don’t necessarily disagree. Fred tends to come at people pretty hard, so I went hard back. But some readers won’t know that, so it’s worth pointing out.